Crime & Courts

Gaston DA cancels plea hearing for woman accused of triple murders

Gaston District Attorney Locke Bell reportedly has offered a plea bargain to triple murder suspect Crystal Gambino that would put her in prison for at least 28 years.
Gaston District Attorney Locke Bell reportedly has offered a plea bargain to triple murder suspect Crystal Gambino that would put her in prison for at least 28 years. John Clark/The Gaston Gazette

The expected plea hearing for a Gaston County woman accused of shooting her husband and two other participants in a group tryst was canceled Wednesday morning without explanation by Gaston County District Attorney Locke Bell.

More than a half dozen reporters were on hand at the Gaston County Courthouse for the expected guilty plea from Crystal Gambino. So was Charlotte attorney Melissa Owen, who is representing the father of Stephanie Sanchez – one of three people shot to death on Feb. 29 at Gambino’s rural Gaston County home. Gambino had been charged with first-degree murder in each killing.

The dead woman’s father, Eddie Heim, and other relatives reportedly oppose the deal between defense attorneys and Bell’s office that would allow Gambino to plead to lesser charges in exchange for a minimum prison sentence of almost 30 years. A first-degree murder conviction carries a mandatory life sentence without parole.

Gambino was to make her plea at 11 a.m. to Superior Court Judge Jesse Caldwell. But at about 10 a.m., Bell told reporters already waiting in the courtroom that no hearing involving Gambino would take place.

“I told y’all I would call you (when the plea would take place). Did anybody get a call from me?” Bell said loudly as he walked past reporters in the lobby.

Told by one reporter that an assistant in Locke’s office had told him the the hearing had indeed been scheduled for 11 a.m., Bell replied, “Nothing is happening today.” It was not immediately known when or if the hearing will take place.

Gambino was arrested and charged with the shooting deaths of Sanchez, 33, Geoffrey Gilliland, 39, and Gambino’s husband, Giovani “Gio” Gambino, 40.

Authorities say the killings followed an episode of group sex. All the victims were naked and had multiple gunshot wounds. Authorities said at the time of the shooting that Crystal Gambino walked into her bedroom and discovered her husband in bed with Sanchez and Gilliland. It remains unclear if Crystal Gambino knew Sanchez and Gilliland, who had traveled that night from a Charlotte motel to the Gambino home in the rural Alexis community, about 20 miles west of Charlotte.

Sanchez, according to her family members, was shot eight times. Gambino reportedly fired 15 bullets in all, meaning she emptied her five-shot, .44-magnum revolver three times.

During a meeting in late November, Bell told some family members of the victims that Crystal Gambino would plead guilty to two counts of second-degree murder and one count of voluntary manslaughter and would serve at least 28 years in prison, sources told the Observer. When the Observer attempted to ask Bell about the terms of any plea deal, the prosecutor said he doesn’t talk to reporters from the paper.

Steve Breen, a friend of Sanchez, told the Observer last week that the family hired Owen because they were frustrated with the lack of information from Bell’s office. Breen claimed that Bell told the family he planned to schedule Gambino’s plea hearing for Dec. 1 so the media would not know about it.

Asked to respond Wednesday, Bell said Breen “was full of s---” and needed to be investigated.

Owen declined comment. She was last seen Wednesday entering the district attorney’s office.

Michael Gordon: 704-358-5095, @MikeGordonOBS